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On Jan. 9, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the United States had lifted a set of self-imposed restrictions on contacts with Taiwan. While these “Taiwan Guidelines” were barely known to the general public, they had developed a life of their own in U.S. diplomacy. What are the implications of this move?

The guidelines were initiated in 1978, when the United States broke relations with the Nationalist Chinese government on Taiwan, which claimed sovereignty over China. The guidelines governed contacts between U.S. and Taiwanese officials in the absence of formal diplomatic relations. They also restricted meeting places (no meetings with Taiwan officials at the State Department, White House or Executive Office Building), the attendance of formal events at Taiwan’s Twin Oaks estate in Washington and the level of officials who could meet with their Taiwanese counterparts. They also stated that the United States should not refer to Taiwan as a “country” or “government.”

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